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Cats: Pets or Food?

© 2012 by Theodore Zuckerman

Pets or food? Neither.

A man in Bakersfield California United States was charged with a misdemeanor, in 2012, for eating stray cats. He was also charged with animal cruelty, for the way he treated the cats that were to become his food – there were allegations that he skinned a cat while it was alive.

Some vegetarians and vegans like to point out that people who aren't willing to kill cats and dogs, are often willing to kill chickens and cattle and pigs. They say that these people are displaying something that the vegetarians and vegans call "speciesism." Yet sometimes these same vegetarians and vegans engage in speciesism themselves, by wanting to punish people who kill cats, but not wanting to punish people who kill chickens, cattle, and pigs – not to mention by wanting to punish people who kill birds, but not caring if cats kill birds. Non-vegetarians and non-vegans who have given reasoned thought to their moral and ethical values see the hypocracy of these vegetarians and vegans, and this makes them less likely to want to be perceived as being vegetarian, and less likely to want to go vegetarian. Those vegetarians who claim they are not hypocritical, saying, "well, I'd like to punish chicken-killers too, but I am unable to," and who are married to chicken-eating non-vegetarians – they must either have masochists for spouses or they must be full of, err, baloney.

If you are not a specieist, you won't care whether the Bakersfield cat-fancier eats chickens, or eats cats instead.

It isn't like he would be eating more animal matter, by eating cats. Most likely he is eating less chickens, cattle, or pigs, and eating cats instead. I don't think there are many people in Bakersfield who would eat more meat if only they could afford to do so. Generally they already have all the meat they can eat. They might eat more expensive types of meat, but just about anyone in Bakersfield can always afford all the spam or corned beef hash they can eat. And cat is, everywhere, considered to be a cheap meat, a cheap alternative to preferable kinds of meat – it is the cheapest of the cheap. Maybe in a place where there is a food shortage, where many people simply don't get enough to eat, maybe in such a place outlawing eating cats might prevent people living there from eating cats in addition to the few animals they could alread afford to eat. But this is not how things are in Bakersfield. And do we really want to deprive people of protein, if they live somewhere where they can't afford enough protein, where they won't be able to get enough food at all, unless they can freely partake of available feral cats? Then it would come down to cats dying verses people dying, not cats verses chickens or other animals.

I don't believe a "speciesist" law, making it illegal to eat cats, actually does keep people from eating any cats, anywhere. I don't believe it actually does lower the number of cats that are eaten, and I think you can agree that preventing people from eating cats certainly doesn't lower the number of chickens or other animals that are eaten. Though you may not agree, it seems to me that, if preventing people from eating cats does anything, it increases their consumption of other animals. I can't imagine police officers with a search warrant breaking into someone's house, to see if they can find evidence of cat slaughter – because a neighbor told them he saw a cat go in, and never saw it again. It is only the person who his neigbors already don't like for various reasons, and who in addition has cats that are a neigborhood nuisance, who is going to feel the effect of enforcement.

I'm having difficulty imagining police... setting up stake outs... in the hopes of seeing a cat go in and not come out, and then... breaking down their door, barging in with guns drawn... and taking in meat samples... for DNA testing.

You know what? I am sure the law against eating cats must be intended more to communicate the validity of certain ideas shared by a cultural group or clique, and communicate the self-assigned power or importance of this group, rather than intended to empower a group of police officers - with cat eaters among them - to actually spend time and tax-payer money enforcing the law, and thereby succeed in reducing the number of cat-killings. I'm having difficulty imagining, and having difficulty imagining anyone else imagining, police officers enthusiastically setting up stake outs, night after night, in front of someone's house, while munching on cat burgers, in the hopes of seeing a cat go in and not come out, and then breaking down the suspected cat-eater's door and barging in with guns drawn, descending upon the bathroom before anyone can flush any cat meat down the bowl, going through refrigerators and freezers looking for cat meat, and then seizing meat samples as evidence, for DNA testing. Cats are not slaughtered commercially to begin with. Unless we have police stakeouts like this, the few people that slaughter a few cats, in their back yards, could easily do it in ways that don't cause others to take notice. The real reason people want this law is so that they can say "look at us, we like cats and we don't want you to hurt them, and we would like it if we could force you not to hurt them because we have the power to do that and you don't, you cat killer." It isn't meant to have any real effect. The number of cats slaughtered is not going to change. It is already almost nill anyway. What is going to make a change in the world is changing people's hearts, not posting signs around the neighborhood saying "don't kill cats; it's the law." This kind of law is more about animosity toward certain kinds of people, than about love of cats.

We already have too much legislation. It seems like everyone with a special interest is working on adding a law that supports their particular interest, and that everyone is trying to tell everyone else what to do, down to the smallest detail. People need some room to breathe. It isn't like we have an epidemic of cat-eating that needs to be addressed lest it gets out of hand and people start breaking into people's homes and taking their cats, and then their hamsters, and then their parakeets.

And what about rabbits? Here is an animal that has long been used as a pet, and for food, and for fur. Are we going to legally define and identify the particular cultivars that are used for food, and the cultivars that are used for pets, and make sure people use the right cultivar for each purpose? Maybe we can have frequent inspections of the facilities of rabbit breeders, and make sure they are segregating the pet rabbits from the food rabbits, and making sure that the pet rabbits have a space at least 4 feet by 20 feet to run around in, and making sure that the food rabbits have a cage at least large enough to turn around in. And making sure that whenever anyone sells a rabbit, they must make sure that the people that say they want a pet, are actually going to keep the rabbit as a pet. For that, they'll need to check identification, and then before selling someone a rabbit to be used as a pet, they'll need to check the on-line database of all the people that have a conviction for eating a pet, or have a history of mental illness that involves pet-eating, lest they sell a pet rabbit to someone who is going to divert it for food use, or vice versa.

No eating the pet frogs; no petting the food frogs.

Same goes for frogs. No eating pet frogs; no petting food frogs. Every restaurant that serves frog's legs, they'll need a chain of custody document for every frog they serve, a complete history, from egg to pot, to make sure that frog hasn't been in a 9-year old boy's pocket, at any time in the past. Each diner will get a dozen chain of custody documents with their plate of a dozen pairs of frog's legs. One for each frog. Each document will be 20 pages long.

Cats are carnivorous mammal. They have various features which we can describe. The idea of being a pet or a food is something we may or may not ascribe to them. We need to do a better job of avoiding confusing description with ascription.